TAMPA — Until Tuesday, Cree Riley had never been face-to-face with the man who hit her and a friend with his car and then drove away.
When she finally saw Andres Trujillo in a courtroom, the 20-year-old with a scarred body and dashed dreams had one question.
"I just want to know why," she asked through tears. "How could you leave two people in the road? You just left us there like we were nothing."
Riley was hospitalized for weeks after the November 2009 crash with severe injuries to her leg, arm, hip, eye socket, shoulder, collar bone, chin and jaw. To this day, her jaw barely opens and she suffers from symptoms of traumatic brain injury.
Erik Nicoletti, a 20-year-old University of Tampa film student, didn't survive his injuries.
His mother, father and teenage sister — still ravaged with grief — traveled from New York for Trujillo's sentencing.
"I miss the life we had when Erik was in it," his mother, Dorothy Nicoletti, said. "Our house feels like an abysmal void."
Trujillo, 29, pleaded guilty in December to leaving the scene of an accident with injury and death and accepted a plea offer of 15 years in prison and 15 years of probation. As part of the agreement, he will permanently lose his driver's license and must perform 100 hours of community service.
The Nicolettis said it wasn't enough.
"It's obvious he has no respect for life, no morality in him, and absolutely no remorse for murdering my son Erik," Dorothy Nicoletti said. "He's only sorry he was caught."
Trujillo, the father of two young girls, said he felt remorse but didn't expect the families' forgiveness.
"You are wrong," he said. "I turned myself in because I know that justice should be doled out."
Trujillo told police he reached down to pick up a dropped, lit cigarette when he hit something on Kennedy Boulevard near North Boulevard.
At the time, he worked as a sous chef in a downtown restaurant and was serving probation for the fraudulent use of a credit card and petty theft. His arrest record dated back to 2003.
He said he fled out of panic. He said he wasn't drinking.
Riley met Erik Nicoletti only a few hours before the crash but was instantly smitten.
"I had a huge crush on him," she said.
A softball player and engineering student at Penn State University, she had just arrived in Tampa to visit a friend. She was introduced to Nicoletti at a bar and thought he was gorgeous.
They were hit after walking to the Metro Food Mart for an early-morning snack.
She battles ongoing physical pain, no longer able to snowboard or play softball and unlikely to ever fulfill her goal of becoming a firefighter.
She thinks about Nicoletti often. She feels guilty that she lived and he didn't.
She was angry Tuesday that Trujillo didn't look at her when she spoke to him in court.
She said she didn't feel any closure.
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.